Ancient Pueblo Peoples Practiced Advanced Geometry without a Known Written Language or Numerical System, Could You?

Ancient Pueblo Peoples Practiced Advanced Geometry without a Known Written Language or Numerical System, Could You?

(Read the article on one page)

A startling discovery was made while studying the mysterious Sun Temple at the Mesa Verde archaeological site in Colorado, USA – a repeated pattern of shapes and measurements stands out in the architecture. But how did the ancient Pueblo peoples build their sophisticated site? The Southwestern Pueblo people who built the site around 1200 AD had no known writing or numerical systems to help them in their architectural endeavors.

This intriguing discovery was made by Dr. Sherry Towers, a professor with the Arizona State University’s Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center, who had spent years examining the Sun Temple at Mesa Verde.

The Sun Temple at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA.

The Sun Temple at Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA. ( CC BY SA 4.0 )

Although Heritage Daily reports that she began her work with a different purpose, Dr. Towers was surprised to see the same measurements cropping up over and over again – specifically, she saw that the site was laid out using a unit of measurement that was just over 30 centimeters (just under a foot) in length.

Equilateral triangles, squares, 45-degree right triangles, Pythagorean triangles, and the famed “ Golden rectangle ” kept popping out at her while she examined the enigmatic feature of the well-known archaeological site as well.

A satellite photo of the Sun Temple archaeological site in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, USA with illustrations demonstrating its geometrical properties.

A satellite photo of the Sun Temple archaeological site in Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, USA with illustrations demonstrating its geometrical properties. ( Dr. Sherry Towers )

Interestingly, Dr. Towers also found evidence suggesting that these geometrical shapes were present at other ancient Pueblo sites as well -  Pueblo Bonito, in New Mexico’s Chaco Culture National Historic Park, provides another example of this knowledge at a ceremonial site. Others may be found in the future as well.

As Popular Archaeology states: “With some geometrical know-how, a straight-edge, a compass or cord, and a unit of measurement, all of the shapes are fairly easy to construct.” But how did the ancient Pueblo peoples go about their construction without a written language or numerical system to aid them?

A satellite photo of the Pueblo Bonito archaeological site in Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico, USA with illustrations demonstrating some of its geometrical properties.

A satellite photo of the Pueblo Bonito archaeological site in Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico, USA with illustrations demonstrating some of its geometrical properties. ( Dr. Sherry Towers )

The ability for the Southwestern Pueblo peoples to create measurements that were near-perfect, with a relative error of less than one percent, provides more evidence that ancient civilizations were more advanced than some people believe - in-fact, they were likely just as, or more, creative than most people today. As Dr. Towers says :

"This is what I find especially amazing. The genius of the site's architects cannot be underestimated. If you asked someone today to try to reconstruct this site and achieve the same precision that they had using just a stick and a piece of cord, it's highly unlikely they'd be able to do it, especially if they couldn't write anything down as they were working."

A view of the Sun Temple from Cliff Palace loop.

A view of the Sun Temple from Cliff Palace loop. (Robin Stevens/ CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

Returning to Dr. Towers original interest in the Sun Temple; she was looking for evidence suggesting the site’s use in astronomical observations. As she has said:

“The site is known to have been an important focus of ceremony in the region for the ancestral Pueblo peoples, including solstice observations,” Towers says. “My original interest in the site involved looking at whether it was used for observing stars as well.”

The Sun Temple.

The Sun Temple. (Ken Lund/ CC BY SA 2.0 )

Despite its name, the exact purpose of the Sun Temple has not yet reached consensus, but like Dr. Towers, many other researchers have wondered if the Sun Temple was an ancient observatory. For example, Gary A. David has previously written on Ancient Origins :

“[…] the so-called Sun Temple was used exclusively for watching the skies. It is located on top of the mesa rather along cliff sides within the canyons. Perched at the southern edge of the mesa near the juncture of Fewkes Canyon and Cliff Canyon, this D-shaped structure lies a bit more than 300 yards southwest of Cliff Palace, which is located on the far side of the latter canyon. These two canyons, by the way, contained a total of 33 habitation sites.”


Thomas O. Mills's picture

Frank Waters dedicated a chapter in his Book of the Hopi, page 94, writen in 1963 to the Sun Temple of Mesa Verda.  He explains which clan built it, what it represents, what ceremonies were held there and which clan took part in the ceremonies, and why there is a Sun Dail located on the southeast corner.  As information    tom

Thomas O. Mills

Roberto Peron's picture

You can find geometric shapes in just about anything.  As for those sites that truly were built using geometric designs I guess those people weren’t quite the “savages” some people like to think of them as.  And that is music to my ears!  Our ancestors were not ignorant barbarians! Time to remove our ethnocentric sunglasses and stop trying to look through the glass darkly.


another example of a stretching ambiguous points to make a point for a paper.. and do not reflect the reasoning of the actual builders.. given enough arbitrary points one can find all kinds of geometric shapes that have nothing to do with the actual structure

Unfortunately you might be right. There is too much of this going on to just personally benefit one individual in future book sales or career advancement. It detracts from selling interest in the overall industry product which is HISTORY.

The general public is getting wise to these type of actions and losing interest in history altogether because of it. This is detrimental to the whole ideal of promoting and creating a market through interest in history.

If these folks don’t stop stepping on their own toes with this sensationalizing of possibilities in theory real soon… there will no longer be a market and demand for their wares or knowledge and everyone loses in the end.

There are many, many very more significant and important projects that truly warrant recieving this funding. Read the news this morning and already these type of grandiose projects may have cost the whole historical community and industry billions in funding.

At some point Self Responsibility needs to come into play. Cause and Effect… Guilt by Association… Cross Contamination… Time to rally behind those projects that truly deserve funding rather than the self interested 001 %.Or it will all be for naught, Zero, Zilch, Por Nada…

I do business consultation and promotion for a living and see the writing on the wall, This will be the end result, trust me… I have already seen it happen many times to end up destroying a product and the very market demand for that product.

Sorry for all the edits folks, but I just can’t express how important this situation happens to be for the sake of historical knowledge...

Having a passel of goddaughters, nieces, nephews and friends kids, pulling babysitter duty has taught me that watching kids play is enlightening. They will hit the beach and *build*. They build advanced structures with nothing more than imagination and a small bucket and shovel that display 'architecturally advanced ideas'. They will design road systems for Tonka Toys that beats the hell out of Rochester NY's infamous Can of Worms interchange. They will use Legos, Lincoln Logs and those spiffy blocks to build even more interesting structures.

I really don't think that a 5 year old kid is really watching their environment all that closely. People are like insects and animals, we have an urge to build, and there are only so many ways to stack shit and have it stand. The whole angles/Golden Mean and whatever else is touted in that lovely little drawing is silly. They built structures that they needed, in sizes that were convenient - I would be willing to bet that entire Sun Temple cpmplex was erected at one time, by a single work gang with a single guy in charge so of course there is a single 'base measurement'. Now I would be more interested if 10 or 15 temples and villages constructed over 100 years had the same 30 cm base measurement, that would show that they were using some sort of standardized measurement.

[and doesn't it seem that historically 12-18 inches is a fairly common base measurement? Look at the cubit, and the various iterations of the foot. Not that I buy into the whole Freemason thing, but when they started having 'architect' and 'builders' as a profession, they did need to come up with some sort of standardized terminology and measurements so they could arrange and order building sites.]


Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

DNA molecule representation
By sequencing the ancient genomes of 15 individuals from different parts of Africa, researchers reporting in the journal Cell on September 21 have reconstructed the prehistory of humans on the continent, going back thousands of years. The findings shed light on which human populations lived in eastern and southern Africa between 8,000 and 1,000 years ago, the researchers say.

Myths & Legends

Illustration of a sea serpent. Credit: Tina Leyk / deviantart
More humans have walked on the moon than have been to the deepest parts of planet Earth and although the oceans cover 70% of Earth’s surface, we only know around 1% of the seafloor. Many a mystery surrounds the deep blue and this is the remarkable story of a cryptozoological enigma which washed up on Scotland's northern shores in the 19th century.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article